Composer portrait albums tend to go one of two ways, highlighting either the broad diversity of their output or the more single-minded consistency of a central idea permeating multiple works. In the case of Verbinden und Abwenden, a new disc exploring the music of Turkish composer Zeynep Gedizlioğlu, it’s most definitely the latter. And in a way, the consistent central idea is entirely summed up in that title, which the composer translates as “connect and reject”.
The particular way this tends to manifest in Gedizlioğlu’s music can be heard writ small in Sights of Now, a chamber work for two pianos and string quartet that opens the disc. The opening couple of minutes establish something of a paradigm for everything that will follow. Slow, uncertain chords – music so withdrawn it sounds like the instruments are reluctant to make any sound at all – are suddenly swept aside by rapid, scurrying material held together and driven along by manically rapid note repetitions from the pianos. As the piece continues, it’s as if the score wasn’t notated on paper but on large pieces of elastic that are constantly being stretched and relaxed, causing the pace and momentum to speed up and slow down. Every time i listen to the piece i find myself gravitating away from the details of the tempestuous dialogue going on at the music’s surface, focusing instead on this broader action of expansion and compression going on beneath. It doesn’t take much of a leap to hear this inner flexing as an articulation of the ‘verbinden und abwenden’ idea, the expansion pulling things apart and away from each other, causing the music to slow and falter, the compression pushing them closer together, resulting in rapid bursts of frantically interconnecting ideas.
In Kelimeler, a short work for five voices, this back-and-forth takes a slightly different form, becoming a polarisation between types of material. One type is intense and turbulent, the voices not so much articulating as gabbling their way through the text as if their lives depended on it; the other type is more obviously sung, its notes sustained and lyrical. From the outset there’s a tussling between these two types, sometimes in a direct way – floating phrases breaking down in aggressive shouts, babbling syllables launching into soaring suspensions – and sometimes indirect, the two existing in parallel, heard simultaneously but seemingly unaware of the other’s existence. The drama comes from the fact that there’s no meaningful middle ground between these ideas, resulting in them, over time, seeming to become more exaggerated: the deranged ramblings of a lunatic versus the poetic ethereality of an angelic motet. Again, i find myself drawn not so much to the moment-by-moment intricacies of the text (which, devised by Gedizlioğlu, is concerned with “key concepts of ‘voice’ and ‘darkness'”) as with the conflict that sees this text being by turns mangled and beautified, prosaic and transcendent.
This push-pull tension of connection and rejection finds both more simple and more complex expression in the larger-scale works on the disc. The 20-minute piano concerto Blick des Abwesenden (“view of the absent one”) makes the pivot of this tension rest on the all-important relationship between soloist and orchestra. In contrast to Sights of Now, where – notwithstanding the elastic effect i spoke of there – the pianos acted to link everything together and drive it all along, in Blick des Abwesenden, despite some similarities of attitude (above all rapid, assertive note repetitions) the solo piano has no such luck. Momentum is constantly thwarted, the piece progressing in a parade of lurching fits and starts, oscillating between determination and resignation. As a consequence much of the material, from both soloist and orchestra, is restricted to the gestural – wind flurries, string tremolos and col legno clatter, brass reports – all of which indicate attempts at consolidation (usually being performed by entire sections together) yet which amount to little in the bigger scheme of things. The result is a profound sense of frustration everywhere in the music; moments that seem potentially climactic (especially one around the halfway point) end up as little more than impatient outbursts that come to sound rather unhinged, apropos of nothing. Instead a kind of dazed numbness sets in, though the continual attempt to achieve something over the work’s 20-minute duration ends up feeling all the more heroic. It’s important to stress that the frustration endemic to the music isn’t shared from a listening perspective – it’s not a frustrating listen, but quite the opposite. Interestingly, unlike the aforementioned pieces i find myself focusing more and more on the surface of Blick des Abwesenden, following all the details of its connection-rejection interplay. In some respects it’s by far the most complex work on the disc, yet despite that it’s the one i’ve returned to most. It’s a puzzle – yet it’s also blisteringly vivid and immediate.
More simple is the title work, Verbinden und Abwenden, which at 26 minutes is the longest piece on the disc. It’s also a concerto of sorts, but there are no fewer than 14 soloists – not positioned at the front but dispersed throughout the orchestra, acting as what Gedizlioğlu calls “foreign objects”. This extends the polarisation i spoke of before beyond the nature of the material and its behaviour to the very make-up of the orchestra itself. Nonetheless, in terms of how the push-pull flexing operates in this piece, it has a simplicity that’s very direct. Once again, there’s the impression of a group of instrumentalists in crisis, hoping against hope to push forward, forge connections and drive the music home, yet continually finding itself recoiling and retreating, caught in a seemingly unbreakable tension. The most delicate music on the disc is to be found here; we hear sounds frozen, hovering mysteriously in the wings, tentative and jittery, often reduced to little more than faint wisps of air. As in Blick des Abwesenden the opposite kind of music, sudden loud eruptions, increasingly sound like expressions of annoyance, but here the result is a more extreme kind of volatility – of a kind that even leads to heated shouts and vocalisations from the players – and by the second of its three movements it feels like what’s happening really is all or nothing. However, unlike elsewhere in the case of Verbinden und Abwenden it’s tempting to hear in the mesmeric hovering atmosphere of its final movement that something not unlike a connection might finally have been made. Not perhaps a lasting one, certainly not a stable one, but one where silence has finally been eradicated, the music no longer sputters and halts, and where the tension has just possibly become the makings of an equilibrium.
Released as part of the Wergo label’s extensive series of composer portraits sponsored by the German Music Council (Deutscher Musikrat), this fascinating album is available on CD and download.